- Rune Breaker: Chapter 43 – Pele
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 44 – Haumea
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 45 – Arunsteadeles and Ridsekes
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 46 – The One Who Was Lost
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 47 – Reclamation
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 48 – Days of Light and Joy
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 49 – What Matters
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 50 – An Evening at the Silver Hammer Lodge
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 51 – The Immaculate Raptor
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 52 – Spiders and Demons
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 53 – The Journal of Lena Hiddakko
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 54 – Beasts of the Deep
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 55 – The Drinking Gourd
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 56 – Death and Fog
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 57 – The Siege of Nhan Raduul
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 58 – Last Line of Defense
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 59 – He Who Destroys
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 60 – In the Sanctum of the Mask
- Rune Breaker: Chapter 61 – Daughter of the Dragon
Long days of sea travel was starting to wear on Pele in a different manner than it did the others.
Brin and Raiteria complained about the food, which was mostly comprised of dried meat, sea crackers, and Allbuk’s courtesy of the House’s constant supply of fresh water. For Pele, the many flavors of Allbuk’s was still novel enough that she couldn’t agree with them.
Kaiel was constantly humming an odd mnemonic under his breath to prevent sea sickness. He hadn’t been happy to discover that the House, being anchored magically to one of the Raptor’s internal walls, also rocked and swayed with the waves. Having lived much of her life with the much more erratic movements of hailene airships, she adjusted to the yaw and pitch of the sea almost without a thought.
Ru was simply bored. Within a week, he’d completed all the rooms he wanted in the House and was running out of things to detail. Being banned from observing the mystic steam engine and the energist left him to fill most of his time muttering about not having anything to fill his time. Pele anticipated this and brought along a small stash of dime novels to wile away the hours as well as sparring with Brin and learning more about the modern world from Kaiel and Raiteria.
It was the ship itself that gave her the most trouble. Above decks, where it held the least resemblance to a hailene airship, she was fine. Below decks, however, it looked very much like any ship, flying or floating. When she was alone there, it was hard to shake the creeping feeling that at any moment one of her old masters would appear and order her lashed, or worse, for her wings to be removed again.
For that reason, she stayed inside as much as possible; reading whenever no one else was available. It allowed her to avoid her memory-fueled paranoia, but it also meant that she swiftly went through her supply of books. Until one day, she had only one thing left to read: The Journal of Lena Hiddakko.
For what felt like the better part of the morning, following breakfast and a quick sparring session with Brin, Pele sat in what was now her room, staring at the ancient and water-stained cover.
Everyone but Ru had a room on the second floor of the house by then. The dark mage laid most of them out according to some floor-plan pulled from his considerable memory, but had added one detail to Pele’s at her request: a double-sized hearth with a thick, black slab of stone set before the grate to absorb the heat. The only reason she wasn’t stretched out on her belly there at the moment was fear of doing harm to her mother’s book.
Instead, she had to opt for sitting propped up against the bed’s headboard, directly in the path of the heated air blasting out of the hearth’s conjured flames. Her wings were fanned out to the sides and slightly cupped to direct the most heat to her body.
She’d come up with so many excuses not to read it any farther; told herself that there wasn’t any useful information left in those pages, and that even the dime novels had more relevance to her life in the present. And yet, the curiosity remained. Though Lena Hiddakko had proven, beyond any delusions Pele might have created, that she was not a saintly woman, Pele still wanted to know more about her.
It was a small hope, but Pele did remember the first entry she’d read: the one Librarian Yolinderan directed her to read. Hiddakko had spoken with at least something approaching care there. Pele resolved to start there and read the notes pertaining specifically to her.
The old pages crackled only slightly as she opened them and slowly, carefully, leafed her way to the passage from which she’d taken her new name.
It wasn’t long before she came to the start of the experiments, spurred on by the death of a hailene inflicted with the divinity spark. There were the same cold calculations and the laissez–faire attitude about the suffering of ang’hailene. Pele skipped ahead until she started seeing drawings of dragons with carefully jotted speculation about what granted them powers similar to the divinity spark.
Within a few pages, representing months of research that didn’t warrant entries in Hiddakko’s mind, there was finally a new entry describing how a fresh ‘sample’ had been taken. It seemed that many hailene had died in battle with a red dragon called Agmar, and it was only by being nearby at the right time that Hiddakko and her partners managed to procure blood and muscle tissue from a weapon that had managed to harm the mighty dragon.
Agmar. The name rolled around in Pele’s head and sunk in comfortably, as if it belonged there the entire time. In the same roundabout way that Lena Hiddakko was her mother, Agmar (she had no idea if dragons even had surnames or if ‘Agmar’ was even a first name to start with) was her father—or another mother. The report didn’t specify.
Progress raced along after that, with Hiddakko and her team experimenting with new ways to combine the draconic material with that of ordinary animals. Pele only skimmed those pages, seeing as how most of them were gruesome (and highly detailed in the notes) failures with the occasional draconic result, none of which with the power the team was trying to unlock.
The skimming caused Pele to miss the actual entry where the breakthrough came and the recombination of materials resulted in something very much like a spirit beast. With surprising celerity, the project moved on to trials with ang’hailene.
It was hard to read, especially at the beginning, but eventually Pele spotted a shift in Lena’s attitudes toward the ang’hailene as the first few subjects died from complications. Over the course of the pregnancies, while she didn’t use (and possibly didn’t know) the names of her subjects, her callous indifference turned to pity, then turned to respect, and finally turned to sympathy. There were even thoughts written into the margins wondering what the actual difference between hailene and ang’hailene really was.
No matter how much sympathy Pele began to find, however, she never once saw regret or horror at what she’d done written in her mother’s hand. There was little self-reflection at all, as if Lena never examined her previous thoughts and conclusions once a new one presented itself.
It was almost jarring for Pele to see the same woman who wrote a scathing rant about how ‘weak’ early test subjects were for dying and reducing her pool of data turning around and expressing worry for what might happen to an ang’hailene child she adopted in secret should she be found out.
From there, however, holes in Pele’s memory began to fill in. Lena made sure to dye young Pele’s hair and feathers black nightly, turning it into just part of bathing for the young girl. The glassed in trees were part of the hot-house on Lena’s estate. The songs and stories she half-heard in her head were denoted and constructed in the margins of her mother’s journal.
And at the same time, science was eclipsed in Lena’s world by politics. The War of Ascension was still just a secret escalation on the Empire’s part, but already they were restructuring for full-scale battle. Against her will, Lena was placed in a senior position of a new Council of Advancement in Battle, a position that had little to do with science or battle, and a great deal to do with political in-fighting.
It was in the midst of entry after entry of complaints about political rivals and pining for more actual work in a laboratory that something caught Pele’s eye:
I was under the impression that a replacement for my under-secretary would be my responsibility. Truth be known, I was looking forward to replacing Ingrid Tellio with someone whose temperament and intellect would be more compatible with my own. There is no doubt that such a change would increase the effectiveness of my department at least tenfold.
My hopes that this may be the case were dashed with the arrival of my new under-secretary: a sycophant who proudly tells me that he has spent eight years at the Emperor’s court and zero in a laboratory setting: Jonan Crossius.
Pele’s eyes widened. That could not be a coincidence. A hailene named Crossius had worked with her mother and now they were headed to an island held by a lord by the same name? The given names were different, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a family connection.
She skipped ahead, looking for another entry with that name in it or any mention of Nhan Raduul. All the while, she cursed herself for having been such a coward in avoiding the book in the first place.
For a year’s worth of entries, there was nothing useful. Lena disliked Crossius and deemed him useless at best, obstructive at worst, but never in such a way that warranted more than a snappish comment. Pele was starting to think that she’d been wrong when she finally saw it.
If it takes the rest of my life and drains my coffers of all my wealth, I will kill Crossius. He has taken my daughter from me.
Now she remembered that name. Remembered it mixed in with all the other curses her mother screamed as two fully armored soldiers held her back. Remembered a painful grip on the nape of her neck, and twisting herself around until she was looking up into the wholly emotionless eyes of a white-winged hailene dressed in gaudy bright silks.
Moments before, the man had, in his unsettling monotone, complimented her on being a pretty girl. He’d reached out to stroke her wings in an all too familiar way, only to have his fingers come back black with running dye. It hadn’t surprised him; in fact, it seemed to please him if the slight widening of his mouth was his version of a smile.
He ordered the soldiers to restrain Lena immediately and declared that he was taking back ‘the Emperor’s property’. That’s when his surprisingly strong hand had clamped down on her neck. As Pele struggled against him, he spoke: “My dear child, it is time you realized that you are not truly a person. Ayes ang’hailene.”
Pele slammed the book shut and was on her feet in an instant. Questions she hadn’t thought to ask were suddenly answered: How had Immurai known that she was the Soul Battery? How did he somehow manage to detect her when she was almost a half-millennium out of her own time?
Because he’d known from the beginning. Because he had been there.
She had no idea what that changed about the situation, but she felt that it changed a great deal. That meant that the others needed to know.
Miss Pele. Ru suddenly broke into her train of thought. She assumed it was because he detected her surging emotions.
Yes, Ru? I was just about to ask you where Kaiel was.
He is on deck, Miss Pele. That is why I am contacting you: the Captain has ordered all hands on deck. We are instructed to prepare for an attack.
Captain Sangua stalked along the rail, watching as her crew stowed their tools in ship’s lockers and distributed what passed for arms and armor among them. Being a whaler, Immaculate Raptor wasn’t prepared for war, only to repel boarders from any raiders or privateers they might encounter. As they rarely sailed along the Taunaun coast or within the waters surrounding the Isle of Nyce, they weren’t even prepared for real, serious piracy.
She reached into the breast pocket of her coat and drew out her ocular. It was a device made of brass and teak wood that encircled two crystal lenses. Sandwiched between the lenses was a layer of water under a simple akua spellwork that allowed her to change its shape and density by adjusting a set of dials along the ocular’s rim. When she raised it to her eye, the ship in the distance leapt into a much closer view.
It wasn’t a Kimean raider. It was a carrack outfitted with at least six rotating ballista batteries that she could see on deck, and knowing Kimeans, no small complement of spellcrafters. Against that, the Raptor’s single harpoon launcher and two ship-board wizards were like a frog challenging a heron.
They might be able to run—steam power being reliable in all directions regardless of wind—but the wind was currently favorable to the carrack and its four masts. A fight was likely, victory less so.
She spotted Kaiel and Brin at the railing. The loreman-in-training was sighting the enemy ship through a circle made by his finger and thumb, a conjured lens of vin magnifying it for him.
“It might soon be time for you to prove your worth, Chronicler.” Sangua said without greeting. “You’ve damn bad luck; I’ve been sailing these waters for years and I’ve never crossed the sights of a Kimean warship.”
Kaiel frowned, still watching the carrack. “I fear that might not be a coincidence. We’re two days sailing from the nearest Kimean soil for us—that might be as much as five for them. There’s no reason for them to be out here if they weren’t after something. Can we evade?”
“Unlikely.” said the Captain. “The wind is with them and in the open ocean, there’s nowhere to hide from them. If they’re hungry for a fight, we’ll have to give them one.”
“Heh.” Sangua didn’t flinch when she found Ru lurking just behind her, his scythe resting across his shoulders. Yellow eyes practically glowed with anticipation. “Exactly what I wanted to hear.”
Sangua gave him a hard look. “That isn’t what I want to hear. A battle with that carrack will leave us crippled and with a skeleton crew of survivors in the best scenario. You might be eager to get yourself cut down, but I am not and neither is my crew.”
Before Ru could say anything, Pele arrived, pelting out of the hatch as quickly as she dared on the rolling deck. She seemed to have run all the way from their quarters up to the deck; her ribs expanding and contracting as she found herself breathing hard.
“Captain.” She said between huffing breaths. Her eyes darted between Ru and Sangua, swiftly guessing what was going on. “Is something wrong?”
Sangua surveyed Pele and found her to be fully, if sloppily donned in her armor with her weapons at the ready. After giving a nod of approval, she said, “I was just impressing upon this one that a tangle with that carrack out there isn’t something to make light of.”
“Of course not.” said Pele, at the same time sending mollifying thoughts Ru’s way.
“We promised to fight in defense of the ship.” Ru said, summoning all his haughtiness. “We never said we had to fight on their terms. I sense zome arrays filled with flaer and vin in the enemy vessel. Assuming they are using their best craft on those arrays, I estimate that once that ship closes to within a half-mile, they will be able to rain flame on this ship such that the iron hull will not protect the crew or passengers.”
That was enough for Sangua. “Rendral!” She bellowed for the ship’s mage. “Stoke the fires, spare no heat! We’re rabbiting.”
Ru bared his teeth in a vicious grin. “The vin stowed in their zome arrays will allow them to match speed at the expense of hull integrity. If you run, you might get a chance to hole them… before they burn you out.”
The Captain’s hand strayed dangerously close to her sword and her eyes said that she very much wanted to draw it and clout the man before her with the hilt in order to jar some sense into him. “If everything is going to end in death, what do you expect me to do?!”
He regarded her with wicked eyes and turned to study the approaching carrack. “Who said anything about you doing anything.” Not taking his gaze off his new enemy, he added, “They will be within range in minutes, Miss Pele. Shall I kill them?”
Pele followed his gaze, her imagination filling the space between the enemy and the Raptor with bursting fireballs and the stench of death. Even if she felt any sympathy for the Kimeans after learning who they were and what they did, she didn’t see an alternative. “Yes, Ru.”
“May I use all of my means to do so?”
It was dangerously close to asking for an order, but she knew he needed permission to act with the full extent of his ability. Pele felt the link present itself as a cold point of metal in the back of her mind. “Yes you may.”
“Heh.” Ru floated to the rail, shot one look back at Sangua, then turned into a crocodile and pitched himself overboard.
Sangua looked at Pele. Without words, she was demanding to know what all that was about. Pele’s answer was wordless as well, but from an entirely different vector. Someone shouted from the lookout station in the rigging just before the ocean some fifty yards from the ship seemed to boil.
The massive head with the distinctive bone ‘mask’ breached the surface in a spray of water that turned the sunlight around it into a halo of swirling rainbow patterns. It crashed back into the water again as the mighty shield whale surged forward, its flukes powering it through the water on a collision course with the carrack.
“Blood to ice!” exclaimed Sangua.
Pele didn’t say anything, though she couldn’t keep the corner of her mouth from twitching. It was, after all, the most common and natural response to seeing the Rune Breaker in action. Her amusement was short-lived, however, as it was shattered by a spear of surprise in the link that came on so unexpectedly that she almost reeled at the shock.
I am not the only dangerous thing in this water, Miss Pele. There is a creature bearing directly for you. If I fight it, I may not reach the enemy in time.
Face settling into a serious mask, Pele looked out over the water for any sign of the new threat and found nothing. Can you show it to me?
Of course. What he transmitted to her briefly made her dizzy as it was a set of sensory information that the hailene mind wasn’t used to processing. While a shield whale could see underwater better than a demihuman, it relied mostly on its brain making composite ‘images’ based on how its whale-song echoed off of objects in the water in surprising detail.
Pele slowly came to understand what she was being shown: gradients of water density that indicated currents, the rigid, yet hollow shapes of the keels of both ships, the resonant, semi-solid bodies of fish… and the mad juxtaposition of densities and shapes that formed the body of some thing in the depths, driving through the water toward the Raptor.
It took her a moment more to work out what it was. She’d seen much smaller, more mundane versions—some had even featured into the cuisine of Rivenport. At the time, it looked odd, almost laughable. When it was some thirty-five feet long and on the attack, it was no longer so funny.
Her eyes widened and she looked to Sangua. “Captain, you need to order all hands to prepare to repel. Something’s about to attack us from underneath.”
Sangua didn’t bother asking any more questions. Previous experience told her that it would be a waste of time considering the nature of Mon Solus Kime’s monsters. “Rendral!” She bellowed, “Belay that last order. I need you on deck! Gertan, man the launcher! All hands rearm to repel boarders, but stand away from the rail!”
The crew of Immaculate Raptor moved with a precision. The heavy rifles they had broken out when they were expecting a ship-to-ship engagement were exchanged for pistols with one to three shots and cutlasses as well as axes. Those special few that were gifted at ranged combat made their way up into the rigging, or onto the platform where the harpoon launcher resided.
Pele noticed in the rush that Raiteria had already camped herself out on the platform, rifle at the ready. Giving her adopted sister a wave, Pele went along with Brin, Kaiel and the Captain to join the contingent that had formed up on the waist, away from the rails.
She gave Kaiel a furtive glance as he took a flask of water out to wet this throat. “There’s something we have to discuss after this.” She said quietly. “I read more of my mother’s book.”
The chronicler swallowed, leaving a moment in which Brin took the chance to ask his question in his stead. “Is it good news, or bad news?”
Across the span of water, someone evidently spotted Ru, as twin bolts of lightning cracked out from the forecastle and into the water. There was no correspondent pain in the link.
“I’m… not sure.” Pele admitted. “But the man in charge of the island we’re bound for, Crossius? He is Immurai. Not only that, but it was him that separated me from my mother in the first place.”
“He’s been waiting for this almost five hundred years?” Kaiel said, not quite incredulous. He sobered quickly, “And he truly has the advantage of knowing the island. No doubt, he’ll have patrols searching the best sites to camp and prepare an offensive. We’ll have to scout quickly and strike on the same day we land.”
Someone very near them cleared their throat and the three flinched as a presence imposed itself on them. The newcomer wore a broad straw hat over what could be confused for beggar’s attire. One hand gripped a short length of cord wrapped around a drinking gourd.
“Killing Immurai the Masked is certainly a goal I can agree with, but you have to survive to the island yet. Focus.” he said pointing out over the water.
Brin narrowed her eyes. “Who in the Seven Interlocking Hells of the Inferno are you? And how do you know about Immurai?”
“All you need to know at the moment is that I have a vested interest in your living to kill Immurai.” Said the man. “Beyond that, I suspect the chronicler here can fill out the rest later.” He gave her a hard smile that was barely visible beneath the brim of his hat and shook his gourd in Kaiel’s direction.
The gesture was not lost on Kaiel who gawked openly. He was aware enough of the nature of the world that he didn’t even think the words ‘that’s not possible’, but he did find the first possibility that came to mind unsettling. After Immurai and Bashurra, not to mention the Rune Breaker, he was starting to feel overwhelmed at all the legendary figures that seemed to be emerging. It was worse with this one, as there were so many legends and so little that was consistent.
“Zect of the Drinking Gourd.” he guessed aloud, watching the eponymous gourd swinging back and forth on its cord. Now that he was paying attention, he could smell the contents, and it wasn’t alcohol. There was more he could say, but it would distract the others more than they already were.
Pele and Brin both took cues from Kaiel’s tone of voice and went on guard, trying to split their attention between the water and the stranger.
Another hard smile and a nod confirmed Kaiel’s suspicion. “I did hear that you were well-versed when I cast about in Rivenport. For what little good it does to put your mind at ease: until Immurai is no more, you and I are working toward the same end.
“He means to slay you and leave the Soul Battery bereft and alone by the time she faces him. I intend to bring him great disappointment no matter how many threats he hurls at you.” He inclined his head and gestured with the gourd to the sea, which was surging once again as a large body moved beneath the surface. “Case in point…”
Someone in the rigging gave a shout and several rifles reported as they fired on the approaching threat. The bullets didn’t check the thing’s charge as it closed in. The creature’s back breached the surface, water streaming off slimy mottled skin interrupted by bands of black scales and tarnished metal plates. The crew of Immaculate Raptor didn’t get much time to suss out what manner of beast it was before it struck.